Background: Several groups demonstrated in animal experiments that gene transfer is a feasible tool for inner ear intervention. Various approaches for inoculation of vectors have been successfully used for inner ear gene therapy. One possible way to reduce the risk of hearing loss following the opening of the cochlea for application of the vector into the perilymphatic space is to deliver vectors through the round window. This study was designed to determine whether middle ear application of an adenoviral vector is a feasible approach to inoculate vectors and lead to transduction of cells in the inner ear. Methods: A unilateral middle ear application of an adenoviral vector was performed in 4 guinea pigs directly on the round window membrane (RWM) and in 4 additional animals by placing a cotton patch soaked with the vector solution on the RWM. The expression of a reporter gene (lacZ) was used to localize vector-transduced cells. Results: Only one out of 8 animals showed cochlear expression of the reporter gene, whereas all 8 animals showed strong lacZ expression in the middle ear mucosa, in the RWM and in the mucosa surrounding the stapes. Conclusion: Our results indicate that the RWM presents a close barrier, almost completely preventing the adenovirus to diffuse into the perilymphatic space. Therefore middle ear application of an adenoviral vector cannot be used to induce inner ear gene transfer. However, middle ear application of a viral vector may be useful for developing treatment for diseases of the middle ear mucosa.
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